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Did Moses write the Pentateuch

by Johannes van de Lagemaat

The Bible is a Book which has been exposed to strong criticism throughout the ages. How many efforts are not being undertaken these days to ridicule the Word and to try to show the incredibility of it! Some of these efforts are flatly ridiculous themselves and arise from enormous ignorance.

Other efforts are more subtle and can even sow small seeds of doubt with God’s own children. Certainly these efforts need not arise from bad intentions. They can be questions which arise from a sincere quest for truth. We don’t need to defend the Scriptures. They stand firm for themselves. But we can look for answers to those questions which make God’s children doubt whether they can build on the firmness of God’s infallible Word (according to our confession).

An objection

One of the many objections is that the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, has not been written by Moses, nor could even have been written during Moses’ days. In spite of what the Bible itself tells of the matter, critics think that they date from a much later stage of Israel’s history

One of the proofs for this is supposed to be Genesis 36:31. “And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the children of Israel.” And then it is all about this last part: “before there reigned any king over the children of Israël.” If Moses should have written this, then isn’t something remarkable going on here? In the time of Moses there were no kings in Israel at all. That would take hundreds of years yet. And yet Moses refers to a king here. How could he have known this? Surely this sentence could not have been written earlier than the days of Saul, the first king of Israel?

Moses knew the promises

Well, remarkable it is. But there are two logical reasons why Moses could refer to a future king of Israel.

In the first place Moses knew of the express promises to Abraham and Jacob concerning the future kings of Israel. Genesis 17:6: “And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.” And Genesis 17:16: “And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her, yea I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.” But even a lot closer to the text under attack, just in a previous chapter, the promise is repeated. “And God said unto him, ‘I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins.’” (Gen. 35:11).

“And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the children of Israel” does not mean at all that this should have been written after a king reigned in Israel, but simply that Edom was a kingdom before the promises to Israel were made true. And maybe in the light of the promise of Genesis 25:23 the historian could not help inserting this remark comparing the offspring of Esau to that of Jacob. “And the Lord said unto her, ‘Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.’”

God was with Moses

The second reason, related to the first, that Moses could have known something about the kings of Israel, is that he was inspired. He received revelations from heaven. That is clear from Deuteronomy 17:14,15. “When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me ; Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among your brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not set a stranger over thee which is not your brother.”

Under normal conditions such foreknowledge would be impossible. But we have to keep in mind that with God all things are possible. He instructed Moses to write these words.

A light in a dark place
That is the power of the Bible. It is the Book of God. If we would already struggle with a text like Genesis 36:31 what then of all these prophesies concerning the great King. Take Zechariah 9:9 for instance: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” Has this text been written too after being fulfilled?

No, we believe in the prophetic Word, which is more sure. That prophetic Word speaks about the King and His people Israel. We should not criticize that Word or adapt it to our own expositions. Peter taught us to pay attention to it, as a light shining in a dark place. (See 1 Peter 1:19).